For many children in the Philippines, yellow school buses are nothing but TV folklore. It is common for young students throughout the country to walk as many as five miles to school each day. But to the surprise of many Filipinos, some children had no other option but to swim to school.
Last year, when Manila resident Jay Jaboneta first learned that close to 200 elementary school students on the tiny island of Layag-Layag were swimming half a mile to get to school on the mainland, he was shocked. Compelled by the image of these children struggling for the opportunity to learn, Jay knew he had to find a way to help. So, on Oct. 30, 2010, he posted the story as his status on Facebook.
What happened next was beyond anything Jay had imagined. Close friend and marketing expert Josiah Go saw the status and was so touched that he immediately initiated a fundraising campaign for the kids in a status of his own.
“I learned swimming at age 35 and thought these kids may drown anytime,” Josiah said. “I didn’t think twice to raise funds.”
And so the Zamboanga Fund for Little Kids was born. Within one week, the campaign had raised 70,000 pesos ($1,618). With the help of a local humanitarian organization, Jay and Josiah decided that the best way to spend the money was to build a boat so the children could get to school safely each day.
Five months later, on March 27, the bright yellow boat was turned over to the Zamboanga community. The boat, named Bagong Pag-asa, or “New Hope,” gives children free rides to school during the week. Adults and seaweed farmers can also use the boat to take their products into town, but they are charged a small fee that supports boat maintenance.
The Zamboanga Fund for Little Kids began as a project to simply protect the safety of the island’s children. It has now become a full-fledged community resource.
“New media should not just be a website to communicate with the public, it should be something that can empower them,” Jay said.
Since the boat’s launch, the people behind the Zamboanga Fund for Little Kids have formed a Facebook Group to keep track of updates, press coverage and photos.
“The whole project is documented because of our updates on Facebook,” Jay said. “It's so easy to remember people who've helped and the activities we did and challenges we faced.”
The group is now dreaming up more ways to improve the lives of the kids in Zamboanga, but the project has already improved their education, safety and morale.
“I saw in the Zamboanga kids the potential to be someone one day,” Josiah said. “I live far enough [so that the kids] will have to pay forward this good fortune they experience.”